I’m a Midwestern guy. A Big Ten guy. But right now I’m feeling a little embarrassed. Something is terribly wrong with Big Ten football.
The Big Ten took an absolute beating on New Year’s Day, losing all five of its games. The one game I thought could salvage a little dignity for the Big Ten was Wisconsin's matchup against TCU in the Rose Bowl, a big-time BCS game. But of course, Wisconsin came up short in the end.
Losing bowl games is becoming something of a holiday habit for this once-powerful league. It has been years since the Big Ten looked strong in the bowls.
The optimists among us would say that no other conference gets five schools in New Year’s Day bowl games, and that the Big Ten has the most loyal fans.
But you’ve still got to ask: Is the football that bad in the Big Ten? Do Big Ten teams have enough good players? Is the Big Ten overrated? Do they take football seriously in the Big Ten?
Let’s take those one at a time.
The quality of the football is actually pretty good. There are many top-tier players at all positions in the Big Ten. The Big Ten sends its share of players to the NFL every year. Based on those facts alone, the Big Ten is not overrated.
But are they serious about football in the Big Ten? Yes, absolutely, football is very important. The Big Ten has some of the biggest stadiums in college football, which are full at most conference schools every Saturday. Many of the Big Ten schools also have an overflow of big-money boosters and alumni. And now the conference has the ridiculously successful Big Ten Network, which is the envy of college sports.
Is it the coaching? Well, it could be. Some of the most simplistic offensive schemes are run in the Big Ten, and that’s with the winning programs like Wisconsin and Ohio State. It could also be as simple as this: if you want to be a lineman in the NFL, go to the Big Ten. If you want to be a star, go to the SEC.
Even if that is the case at some point, the Big Ten still has to start winning some of the important games.
Are there any solutions? Maybe in the future, the Big Ten should schedule its bowl games against teams from the Mid-America Conference. It seems that only the MAC loses more bowl games than the Big Ten.
Maybe the Big Ten should contract. There are several teams that for years have struggled to win games and develop strong fanbases. Perhaps perennial bottom-feeders like Indiana, Minnesota and Northwestern could drop out of the Big Ten and join the MAC for football, and remain in the Big Ten for all other sports.
Maybe the addition of Nebraska next season and a conference championship game will stoke the competitive fires in the hallowed Big Ten.
The Big Ten is arguably the most valuable brand in college sports. To see that brand harmed by mediocre play and even more embarrassing results is something the conference should work to fix at all costs.